Rotorua is the type of place that’s touristy in a good way; New Zealanders even nicknamed it ‘Rotovegas’ because of its entertaining appeal. The North Island city has plenty of interesting — and culturally important — sights and activities to captivate its visitors. From Maori experiences, to awesome natural features, here are 10 unmissable must-sees to add to your itinerary.
Also known as Whakarewarewa Forest, Redwoods Forest is the place in Rotorua to get your walking, cycling and mountain biking fix. You’ll find an expansive network of tracks amid the forest’s towering California coast redwoods. If you like the idea of seeing the forest from higher ground, there are also 21 suspension bridges built in and around the soaring trees and their neighbouring native ferns.
Rotorua is one of the top go-tos for people wanting to learn about and experience Maori culture. Among the different local encounters is the Tamaki Maori Village, which boasts being the ‘most awarded’ cultural attraction in New Zealand. Visitors can stay overnight at the village, where they will learn about local customs, history and mythology. They can also watch some cultural performances before feasting on a traditional Hangi meal.
Rotorua is known for its volcanic and geothermal features, and Wai-O-Tapu is the most famous of the lot. This natural attraction is located just 27 kilometres (16.8 miles) south of town. Go to the amphitheatre at 10:15 a.m. to see the Lady Knox Geyser put on a spouting show. Spend the rest of the time marvelling at New Zealand’s largest mud pool and the unique hues of the Champagne Pools and Devil’s Bath in the geothermal areas.
For an alternative to Wai-O-Tapu that’s quite handy to Rotorua’s city centre, Te Puia is the place to visit. The area offers something for everyone; highlights include the Pohutu Geyser, live kiwi bird encounters and Maori cultural performances. Te Puia is also known for its Maori Arts and Crafts Centre which has been teaching traditional wood carving, weaving and various other art forms since it was established in 1926.
With an area of 79.8 square kilometres (30.8 square miles), this is the North Island’s second largest lake. Interestingly, Lake Rotorua is quite shallow for its size; it only has a depth of 10 metres (32.8 feet). The lake is popular in summer for trout fishing, jet boating and leisurely cruises. In the middle of it, you’ll also find the mysterious Mokoia Island — a hard-to-reach attraction that is the location of one of the best known Maori love stories.
Rotorua is the birthplace of the Zorb, a unique experience that sees people entering a gigantic inflatable ball as they roll down an adrenaline-inducing obstacle course. Pick-ups from Rotorua city centre can be arranged if you need help getting to ZORB™ Rotorua’s premises. There are three different track types to choose from, and the Zorb site also features its own hot pool, picnic area and covered decks for the ultimate family outing.
Originally known as Paepaehakumanu Motutara, the Government Gardens sit right in the city centre on the edge of Lake Rotorua. Along with a collection of beautiful roses, flowers, shrubs and trees, the area is also home to a number of local points of interest: Rotorua Museum, the Blue Baths, Te Runanga Tearooms and the Band Rotunda.
If you’re looking for a special treat, the hot mineral waters at the Polynesian Spa will serve you well. With 28 mineral pools and a range of health and wellness treatments at its disposal, the spa is the perfect place for a retreat after a long day of exploring. It’s even open until 11 p.m. to cater to those visitors wanting to finish things off on a relaxing note.
You don’t have to splurge on a spa experience to immerse yourself in Rotorua’s hot pools. Venture 35 kilometres (21.7 miles) south of the city to find the free-to-access geothermal springs at Kerosene Creek. A short walk along the dense forested area will lead you to a waterfall that descends into the stunning stream, where you’ll be able to let your troubles melt away.
Since opening its doors in 1932, Rainbow Springs has established itself as one of the key places in New Zealand to encounter some native critters — including the country’s much-loved national bird, the kiwi. Rainbow Springs has been involved in saving the kiwi from extinction since 1975 and has been running its kiwi encounter shows since 2004. Other highlights in this friendly nature park include the Big Splash rides (ideal for travellers with children) and a dynamic Bird Show that offers some fascinating insights about a number of exotic species.